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September 1, 2014, 10:24 pm

Rollins still ‘key’ to Phils’ success

When the Philadelphia Phillies host the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series (best of five) at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday, the Phillies will begin their postseason journey.

The Phillies have great pitching with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels and although pitching is the key to success, it’s not the only important aspect.

There are other factors like experience, talent and confidence. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies shortstop, has all those ingredients. Rollins will be one of the keys in the Phillies playoff run that could bring the city another world championship.

Rollins, 32, has been here through thick and thin. This is his 11th season with the Phillies. When he started playing with the Phillies, he was wearing braids. In fact, Rollins and former Sixers all-star guard Allen Iverson were the city’s pro athletes with that style. The Phillies were still trying to get better. The team wasn’t selling out when he started his career in Philly.

A few years ago, he was the player who labeled the Phillies as “the team to beat.” He helped the Phillies win the 2008 World Series title. He played a huge role in getting them back to the 2009 World Series before losing to the New York Yankees. In 2010, he carried the Phillies to the National League championship series where they lost to the San Francisco Giants. The Phillies were eliminated by the Yankees and Giants; both teams won the World Series.

“I’ve been around here through transition,” said Rollins, 32, who this season batted .268 with 16 home runs and 63 RBI. “It’s been for the better obviously.

Rollins remembers those early days when there were too many empty seats when the Phillies took the field.

“If you sell out, it’s not 13,000 … [it’s] 23,000 on the big board, and everybody likes 23,000,” Rollins said. “That’s a good thing. But it’s the attitude towards us, the Phillies and baseball … the feeling around the city is a lot different.

“I think as far as sports in general football has always had the attention. The season is 16 games as opposed to 162. You can get together once every weekend as opposed to every single day. The excitement of the newness is still there with football.

“(With baseball) Everybody realizes it’s a grind. So, if I miss 10 (home) games. I still have 71 more games. That’s changed because [at] every single home game we have 44,000 (fans). That shows the product on the field along with the marketing and advertising. The most important element is winning.”

The Phillies have certainly done that. The team finished with an amazing 102-60 record. Now, they’re in a really good position to do something special again during this historic season where manager Charlie Manuel became the Phillies’ winningest manager with 646 wins. Rollins has been the catalyst for a lot of those victories.

“The team has evolved tremendously,” Rollins said. “Prior to the season in 2007, I made a firestorm out of a barnstorm (when he said the Phillies were the team to beat). I said it very casually in my response. The point I wanted to make was portrayed. I wanted people to recognize us for who we are. You’re our media covering us. We’re going to be that team. For years, they’ve always talked about the (Atlanta) Braves in spring training or the (New York) Mets. I’m not here to talk about them. I did that for five or six years now. I’m good.”

Rollins has been good throughout his career. He has been selected to three all-star games. He has won three Gold Glove Awards. In 2007, he was named the Most Valuable Player of the National League.

Rollins grew up in Oakland, Calif., where he was an All-American baseball player at Encinal High School, which happens to be the same high school where Dontrelle Willis attended who pitches for the Cincinnati Reds this season. Rickey Henderson was his favorite baseball player. He watched him play during his career with the Oakland Athletics. Rollins was recruited by Arizona State before he decided to play professional baseball.

Rollins hails from a sports family. His brother, Antwon, played minor league baseball with the Texas Rangers and the Montreal Expos. His sister, Shay, played college basketball at the University of San Francisco. Baseball wasn’t the only sport he played as a youngster. He played football and basketball, too.

“I played Pop Warner football,” Rollins said. “I played all the way up to high school. I played from 9 to 14. I was playing football, basketball and baseball year round. I never had a break. I said to my mother (Gigi) that if we win the championship I wouldn’t play high school football. I was tired. So, low and behold we win the championship.

“I go to practice one day with my dad (James Sr.) at Encinal High School. We were on the baseball field. The football coach, who was the baseball coach, asked me if I was going to play football. I started smelling the grass. I went and got my permission slip. I went to my mother and asked her if I could play football. Then, she sent me to my dad. He sent me back to her. My mother said, ‘Remember, you told me that you would not play football if you won the championship.’ So, that was the end of my football career.

“I was a big (San Francisco) 49ers fan. They had Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Roger Craig, Ronnie Lott and Steve Young. I played quarterback. I played running back, too, but mostly quarterback.

“I was a two guard in basketball. I was a slasher. Some people thought I would stay outside and shoot the jumper all the time. I hit the jump shot. I shot some threes. But I was quicker than a lot of guys. I liked to take it to the basket. I remember watching Run TMC (Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin) with the (Golden State) Warriors. I enjoyed playing football and basketball, but baseball is my best sport.”

Rollins has been playing baseball for a long time. He will be a free agent after the season. According to SI.com, he would like to have a five-year contract with the Phillies. Rollins has been a crucial part of the Phillies’ success. His focus right now is on bringing another championship to Philly, and this could be the year.

“This team is solid,” Rollins said. “It’s definitely the best pitching staff we’ve had. Other than that, everybody is a year older and a year more seasoned.”

That could be enough to be a factor in the postseason.

 

Contact staff writer Donald Hunt at (215) 893-5719 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .